Marriage Made Simple

Love and Marriage in Modern Times (Image: babyrabz)

MARRIAGE, in modern times, tends to eschew the stodgy, pedantic practices of yore. Tradition is tiresome, and modernity is in. Pre-marital cohabitation, for instance, may be scoffed at by traditionalists, but to a young couple, it is necessary and vital—it gives them the opportunity to really get to know their potential life partner. In our society, marriage may be embracing all things modern and convenient, but certain traditions will forever stay.

Convenience and practicality tend to rule in modern marriages. With the exorbitant costs of wedding banquets, expensive enough to set the pockets of a couple back by a good year’s joint salary, no wonder some couples opt to celebrate their union in a quiet, private, low profile way. The traditional, expensive, face-saving affair for Mom and Dad is all too much of a burden for a  young couple, who have bigger, loftier things to take on as they launch into their new lives together. Why do they have to bother with the little family bickerings that very naturally arise from something as massive as a wedding banquet?

Through the eyes of a young couple, some of the rituals and superstition surrounding traditional marriage can be rather absurd. A couple, for instance, on their wedding morning, is supposed to have to wash themselves in pomelo leave water to ward off evil spirits. Then, there’s the hair-combing ritual to signify the couple being transformed from a boy and girl to a man and a woman. Obviously, such a practice would not be applicable for a couple who’s remarrying, if not laughable. For the sake of filial piety, most young couples play along, and go through with these practices with a stoic grin.

For the braver and more maverick couples who cannot stand to deal with the throngs of relatives, they choose the path of the closed group celebration of just immediate family and the nearest and closest of friends. It’ s akin to the strictly private Hollywood celebrity wedding. Some relatives may feel slighted, some friends may fume, but whose wedding is it? You can’t please everyone seems ultimately to be the modus operandi of young couples.

This scaled-down approach is taking on greater popularity because it gives the couple and their families a more intimate celebration and takes away the fretting and fussing of having to host, and focuses on the enjoyment of company, food, and setting. With fewer guests, couples have greater flexibility to splurge a little more on a fancier wedding destination out by the bay somewhere, or a fancy resort nudging the cliff with a spectacular view of the sunset. Compare this with the more conventional, more mainstream banquet-in-a-ballroom, the sunset somehow feels more alluring, more romantic, and ultimately, more unforgettable.

One cannot imagine couples of such ilk returning from a honeymoon and moving into the home of their parents, either his or hers. The whole concept of extended family has died a long time ago. Rare is the household with the full force of grandparents, parents, children, and soon enough, the new offsprings. Even the government recognizes this departure from traditional marriage arrangements and the business of starting families. Look at the kind of housing we have. Most of the new public housing are snug little outfits great for couples who are just starting their lives together, whose careers have only just started at the bottom of the ladder.

However anachronistic some of the traditional marriage practices are within the modern context of practicality and good sense, some traditions would never die. The business of feasting, of revelry, and the raucous cheers to joy, double happiness and fertility—all this would never fade with time. And even if a couple were to choose to flee from it all, elopement wouldn’t be something too modern in flavor. Elopement, after all, has been around for as long as love existed. 

(650 words)


Zeta Chua, Pre-University One
October 2017

This essay was written in response to the question:
Traditional marriage is an outdated concept. To what extent is this true of your society.

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The Ways of the Teen

NO K-drama fan worth her salt would watch just a single episode of “Descendants of the Sun” in one sitting. For the love of their actor or actress idol, they would do anything to binge-sit through four, five, even six or more episodes of this romantic TV drama loved by not just Koreans, but fans all over the world.

We teens are masters of such foolishness, blind to the virtues of sleep, and how it can replenish our cells and generate new hormones. Our organs need sleep. Stay up all night and deprive yourself of sleep, your organs would protest, go cranky, and soon enough, you would just fall sick.

This teenage propensity for neglecting sleep happens as well not just in the name of K-drama. They put sleep on the sidelines just to add hours to their day. Want to load up on more revision? Sleep less. Want to meet the assignment deadline? Sleep even lesser. Want to mug it all for that big exam? Load up on caffeine, don’t sleep.  

More and more, sleep is also losing the battle against social media. Its 24/7 existence means that you can choose to be bombarded by it in the toilet, or past your bedtime. That compulsive thumb swipe that goes up and down the smartphone or tablet has such an addictive hold on teens. What social media takes away from us is also healthy relationships. People don’t talk to each other anymore. One could characterize modern social connection as simply this: so near, yet so far.

Teens have it tough in this modern world. Sedentary is in because no one can live without being glued to their smartphones—made worse by the fact that school is stressful and mugging is mandatory. Factor in a lopsided curriculum where Physical Education is a mere 100 minutes per week—equivalent to three percent of the entire week’s school hours—teens are not leading healthy lives, certainly not helped by school canteens serving up fried foods and a wide array of sweet drinks.

As teens would have it, anything instant or trendy entices them to the dark side. Think cup noodles and their salty, slurpy goodness. Then there’s bubble tea, KFC, bingsu, Korean fried chicken, rainbow cheese toast, rainbow cake, anything rainbow, Hokkaido cheese tart, the list gets scary.

No wonder Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has decided to go big on the health theme at this year’s National Day Rally speech. One of the biggest rally takeaways is brown rice. It may not sound like the yummiest thing on earth, but then again it’s not a bitter pill. If the Health Promotion Board ever needed a poster girl to run a brown rice campaign, they can find a ready volunteer. I’ve got my hand up.

(466 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
August 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #4:
To what extent do you agree with the idea that some teenagers lead an unhealthy lifestyle. Give reasons for your views.

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

Tuning In to Ambition

On the road to becoming a chef (Image: Pixar)

AMBITION is a large word. It encapsulates career, social status, starting a family, building assets, growing wealth, and ultimately growing old gracefully with a bundle of grandchildren, or possibly even great-grandchildren, squealing about in the home over festive seasons.

As a teen, though, my vision of ambition doesn’t take into account that far-out silver-haired future. In fact, it doesn’t even accommodate any space for family. I can’t imagine myself being a wife or a mother. In my present world, the word ambition is not singular, but plural. Here’s where I’m the greedy girl: I want to do many things and be many things—a pilot, an officer in the Air Force, and a chef.

The first is an impossibility. I don’t have perfect vision, and sadly—I am not thrilled to admit this—I’m not a guy. The second is out of the question too. Just because the job sounds incredibly cool doesn’t mean that I can handle it. Besides, I’m not a genius at math, and wires and circuitry aren’t really my thing.

Now that I have struck off two ambitions from my bucket list, I’m glad I’ve overcome one of my greatest challenges—that of focus. Which leaves me now to tackle just one thing: becoming a chef.

Even here, I must bring all my focus to bear because like ambition, chef too is a large word that branches into a million other things. What type of chef, for instance? Culinary or pastry, savory or sweet? Then, there’s the cuisine style? Classical French, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, fusion (so last season!). Then, there’s the question of money. Can I not be a chef, but a chef/owner?

These are big questions, questions that should rightly be addressed before I find my way to a culinary institution. But these questions aren’t going to test me physically the way it would if I were standing hours on end prepping, washing, carting and fetching stuff, receiving supplies, and cleaning, always cleaning.

I am acquainted with that kind of exhaustion, having clocked many hours and days in an international cuisine restaurant in Myanmar whenever I return to my other home over the year-end vacation. The queasy, achy ankles, the sore lower back, the burns from the hot, splattering oil, the boiling water, and the oven singes at the stove. Oh, and the cuts too!

Hardship can be cool.

Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain, all these culinary celebrities have never had it easy. And why should I? If I want to be a chef, I need to be friends with hard work. In the meantime, while I’m slogging away at my present academic pursuits, I spend my weekends playing around in the kitchen.

It’s steak one week, Tom Kha Gai another, pasta the next. I have a schedule going, sometimes I keep repeating a dish to get it right. When I slip into a lazy mood and don’t want to fuss in the kitchen, I’ll go food hunting and café-hopping.

Pizza, sushi, Wagyu beef, Korean fried chicken, kimchi soup, Korean barbecue, fancy cakes, pancakes, soufflés, and sexy tarts. No, I’m not gorging, I’m just training my palate.

(528 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Four
August 2017

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2016 exam, Question #3:
What are your ambitions for the future? Explain how you plan to achieve them, including any possible difficulties.

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
Student Essays
2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv

Not Just Friends. Best Friends.

Image: Pinterest

LIFE would be empty without friends, but it’d be a disaster without best friends. Best friends have that special edge over other friends: they are the ears to your most intimate secrets, you laugh more freely with them, you can be silly with them, you can do just about anything and never worry one jot.

Wei Ling is such a friend. She’s a classmate who sits four rows in front of me because she’s short. I have known her for only one year and two months, but I feel as if I have known her for years. I guess that’s what friendship is about—you just hit it off.

Our friendship started on the day I approached her, after she was bullied in the canteen. Another classmate, Xinlu, had commanded her to return her plates to the plate-return corner and she meekly obeyed. I was outraged though. Speaking to her, I would learn that she was bullied too into lending money, erasers, pens—all of which weren’t ever returned.

Xinlu was lucky I never punched her. I had just encouraged Wei Ling to stand up for herself, that meek, timid girl. I generally dislike mousey people, but with Wei Ling, I closed not one eye, but two. And that’s the strange thing about friendship. It’s partial, biased, and not very logical.

Wherever she lacks in courage, she more than makes up for with a great sense of humor, an irrepressible urge to seize the comedy in almost everything. Once, at PE, when we were stretching the tricep in that exercise where you pull your right arm leftward with the left forearm, she made her right arm go limp like an elephant’s trunk, and for good measure, she moved the wrist up and down, and announced: “Look! Elephant!” How funny that in her unabashed playfulness, a thick-skinned sort of courage comes through, while mine just disappears, consumed by mortification. 

But that’s fine. Wei Ling has many fine qualities. When you talk to her, not only her ears are with you, but her eyes as well. How many good listeners are there in this world like her? And how many happy-go-lucky girls are there like her, considering how every other student in school is a worry wort, stressed up to the nth degree, myself included.

Her jolly, merry, devil-may-care attitude makes her a bubble of positive energy. No wonder Korean barbecue is all the more delicious in her company; and movies, all the more fun and enjoyable. I consider Wei Ling to be reliable—she’s always punctual to a fault, but don’t trust her with your secrets. She has never kept any of her other friends,’ which somehow end up flying to my ears. Maybe she’ll keep mine, but I haven’t tested her out yet.

Perhaps soon, but in the meantime, I just smile thinking how fortunate I am to have such a friend. She calms my nerves, teaches me to worry less and laugh a little more. Who knows, if I hang out with her a little more, I just might end up laughing with my fists to the lips, just like a squirrel.

(530 words)

Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Two
February 2015

For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.


My Mother, My Inspiration

Image: Mucho

PERFECTIONISM is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is something I aspire to. My mother has it, I don’t. Perfectionism is what makes my home spick and span. The moment we enter the house, we need to put our footwear right into the shoe rack, while our socks will go straight into the laundry bin out at the backyard. This creates a sort of auto-pilot discipline in our family, which I’m particularly proud of. My kid sister finds it tedious, but she has to play by the rules, which is always a good thing.

The same kind of discipline applies to many other places in our home. At the dining table, every chair has to be pushed up against the dining table as soon as we vacate our seats. Where we are seated for our meals, we have five photo frames gazing at us from an adjacent buffet table—each of them carefully arranged in a slight diagonal, three on the left, and two on the right, facing inward. Then, there’s the fridge. Every item has a dedicated spot. No apple will ever find itself in the company of an orange. Apples will always hang out with apples, likewise for oranges, or any other fruit. 

My mother may sound like an anal freak, but that quality of neatness, precision, and attention to details are admirable. They are everything I wish I had. What I also long to have is my mother’s skill at cooking. She can do steak very well. Well done for herself, medium rare for my father and my sister, and medium for me. Almost always, she’s spot on with the doneness.

For all her gifts and qualities, there is one other that I hold dear. It’s her devotion to the family, her “family first” spirit. When I get a pimple breakout, she’d come home with an entire range of skincare: tea tree oil for antibacterial properties, soap-free facial wash with the right kind of pH value—stuff she took time to research and certainly cost her quite some money.

Then there was that one week six years ago when a mysterious fever gripped me. It was my mother who nursed me back to health. She gave me a cold towel change on the forehead almost every hour. The week zipped by in a blur, save for my mother, whose face was always there before me, and her gentle ways.

Can I ever be like my mother when I become a mother myself? I’m not sure. I’m nowhere as neat as her, as meticulous, as thoughtful, or even gentle. All I can do right now is try.

(443 words)

Germaine Chong, Secondary Four
July 2017

For more essays by Germaine, visit Germaine Writes.

This essay was written in response to the ‘O’ Levels 2014 exam, Question #3:
Which person has the greatest influence on your life at the present time, and why?

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The Man Who Was Born Round
. The Man I Want To Be

For more ‘O’ Level essays, visit:
. Student Essays
. 2014 ‘O’ Levels Essays by Viv